If you’re over 30, you will likely remember your school days – fondly or not – as characterised by the shrill squeaking of pens on whiteboards and lessons copied laboriously into textbooks; of long lectures to quiescent classrooms, ink spots and perhaps the smell of chalk dust in the air. Perhaps, if you were lucky and the teacher needed to catch up on their marking, you’d get to spend an hour watching an educational video on an old VHS tape.
Times have changed. Today’s classrooms are abuzz with technology, from interactive whiteboards to learning apps, tablet computers to libraries of online resources to homework submission platforms. So, we shouldn’t be surprised that our younger employees don’t greet the prospect of traditional training – perhaps comprising an hour-long session in front of a flipchart – with unbridled enthusiasm.
Ask any educator and they’ll tell you that teaching has to be engaging to be effective. Of course, this requires lesson content to be exciting and, where possible, interactive; however, it’s also about accessibility. People are now used to accessing education – whether academic or career-focused – on their own terms and at their preferred times. Yet many businesses still cleave to old-fashioned training regimes which are based on face-to-face instruction, a model that is inefficient, inconvenient, unengaging – and costly.
Optimising the way that they train employees should be right at the top of every business’ agenda. With organisations across the globe and in practically every industry facing an unprecedented skills shortage, it seems extremely short-sighted to trust to the methods of yesteryear. Instead, businesses must go back to school, as it were, and embrace the power of video conferencing for a much more engaging, flexible and effective learning experience.
The video revolution
In the last decade or so, the workplace has undergone as much of a revolution as any school. Thanks to new communications technologies such as instant messaging and video conferencing, changing attitudes to office culture, and the rise of the professional gig economy, the workforce is increasingly decentralised. While the office remains an important hub and headquarters, workers are likely to be spread in numerous locations, from those taking advantage of work-from-home policies to freelancers operating in a different country.
This employee diaspora is making it much harder to schedule and conduct training and skills sessions. This is especially problematic when an organisation needs to teach large groups simultaneously, at short notice, or when uniformity of training is a key consideration.
Businesses, including specialist training providers, are beginning to solve these problems by harnessing the power of web-based video conferencing technology by creating virtual classrooms that anyone, anywhere can attend at any time.
Take the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) that develops and supports more than 148,000 members across 154 countries. By deploying HD camera and phone systems in their meeting rooms, they have been able to offer remote attendees, such as regional bodies, the opportunity to attend events and training via video. The implementation of video conferencing resulted in a huge reduction in travel time and costs as they use the service to collaborate with potential candidates, members, partners and international subcommittees — including Chartered Accountants Worldwide — from Australia to Russia and the US to India.
Another example are the Swedish IT training provider Addskills. Unsurprisingly in a country that’s 1,000 miles long and with towns separated by vast distances, many students have trouble attending the class – a time-consuming and expensive enterprise for those who live far away. Even though technology training is often complex and detailed, Addskills found that using high-definition video conferencing technology enabled it to deliver the same high quality of instruction across sites in Stockholm, Uppsala, Linköping and Gothenburg.
With just a handful of cameras, microphones and a modern, web-based video-conferencing platform, trainers can stream live lectures to other training locations, making them far more accessible to learners while also significantly removing the need to travel long distances to the classroom
Teachers have been surprised at the levels of intimacy that HD video enabled, and how they could monitor each student’s reactions – for example, to see if they understood a concept or were paying attention. Students, meanwhile, told how they felt they had more control over their learning, what courses they could access and when, without any sacrifice in the quality of teaching.
When it comes to providing remote training, there’s a temptation to use existing platforms and technologies, such as Skype. There are several problems with this approach, not least the fact that this often results in choked data connections and Internet ports, leading to poor video performance that damages the effectiveness and intimacy of training sessions. But just as importantly are the additional benefits of having an effective video conferencing platform in place.
It always pays to use the right tools for the job, as the Australian aeromedical charity CareFlight found out. The organisation employs a diverse workforce of 500 medical, aviation and administrative staff, all of whom require regular and in-depth training. Having experimented unsuccessfully with ad hoc solutions, including Skype and an unreliable video conferencing vendor which subsequently collapsed, CareFlight found a fully integrated high-definition video, audio and presentation that provided perfect reliability while requiring minimal IT or facilities installation and maintenance.
But these tools are far too capable to be used for training alone. CareFlight, for example, employs people on a part-time basis, with many working only one shift per month or less; it’s found added value for its web-based video conferencing platform through using it to keep employees in touch with each other, helping to maintain a cohesive culture.
Management training provider Foresight, uses the technology both internally and externally – for example, by conducting sales presentations over the web. While training might be the original driver for using video conferencing, organisations typically discover multiple benefits once the system is in place.
Not just for Millennials
There’s an unfortunate trend that sees some technology vendors try to drive demand for their products by sowing fear, uncertainty and doubt about Millennials and their perceived obsession with technology. According to these narratives, businesses must cater to the growing number of digital natives who, apparently, cannot countenance using old-fashioned ways of working or learning.
When it comes to video-enabled training, the benefits are self-evident and applicable across the generations: it is more convenient, saves the time and cost of travelling, and it enables people to train without impinging on their lifestyle. While young workers, fresh from a ‘connected classroom’ might expect training over a video link, other and older colleagues will embrace it just as readily.
Richard Middleton, country manager UK and Ireland, Lifesize
Image Credit: Photographee.eu / Shutterstock